10 Facts You May Not Know About The National Hunt Racing In The UK

Most people are familiar with the most common type of racing, in which horses run around a track as fast as they can and try to beat their opponents. But there is another type of racing that adds a different level of challenge with obstacles in their path: National Hunt Racing. This requires horses to jump over various heights of fences and hedges, and there are many different types of these races. If you want to find out more fascinating facts about National Hunt Racing, then read on.

1. National Hunt Racing is divided into Hurdles and Steeplechases

Hurdles and Steeplechases

Hurdles are races where horses jump over obstacles that are over three and a half feet high. The hurdles are made of brush, so they are flexible, and there are a minimum of eight of them on the whole course. The course itself has a minimum distance of two miles. Steeplechases have jumps which are diverse, and include water jumps. This comes from the origin of the race, which was to run from one church steeple to another, traversing all the obstacles on the land.

2. The biggest National Hunt Race in the UK are considered to be The Grand National and the Cheltenham Gold Cup

The Grand National is popular throughout the UK, even with people who generally take little or no interest in horse racing! The National is just over four miles long, and features some really big fences, bigger than any others found on conventional National Hunt races. This race is becoming increasingly controversial due to the number of horses who lose their lives running it.

The Cheltenham festival features several different races over a few days, the most famous of which is the Gold Cup which is run over three miles, and has 22 jumps to test the skills of horse and rider.

3. Most of the National Hunt Races take place in the winter

This is because the ground is softer at this time of year, making it easier and safer for the horses to jump these imposingly large fences.

4. National Hunt Racing originated in Ireland

National Hunt Racing originated in Ireland

The Irish have always been famed for their horse races, and remain a strong and notable force in today’s races. The first ever winner of the Grand National, held at Aintree in the UK, was an Irish horse named Lottery, and following on that tradition Irish horses won the three main prizes at Cheltenham and the Grand National in both 2005 and 2006.

5. The first recorded race took place in 1752

The first steeplechase was run in County Cork in 1752, between the towns of Buttevant and Doneraile, and it set the standard for the steeplechase as we know it today. Two horses were traditionally used, and the races were known as “pounding races”! The type of obstacles used in steeplechasing come from these origins, as the horses were expected to just jump over whatever was in their path.

6. The National Hunt Committee was formed in the 1860s

This saved the sport from falling into decline, as it was in danger of doing, because there was no way of regulating the races. National Hunt races were initially thought to be a “poor relation” of flat racing, but the committee managed to bring some much needed organisation and regulation, thus allowing it to flourish into the institution it is today.

7. Sponsorship began in 1957

With the advent of sponsors, a whole lot more races began to be added to the National Hunt calendar, although many of these are geared towards betting turnover by competitive handicaps that attract large numbers of runners.

8. There are three different types of race

These are:

  • The Chase: Run over 2 to 4 1/2 miles, over fences that are a minimum of 4 1/2 feet high.
  • Hurdling: Run over a distance of 2 to 3 1/2 miles, over hurdles that are a minimum of 3 1/2 feet high.
  • NH Flat Races: Run over a distance of 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 miles, and are flat races with no obstacles. Often called “bumper” races, these are for horses that have not yet competed in flat or obstacle races.

9. Races are graded

The grades run from Grade 1 to Grade 3, then Listed, Handicaps and Bumpers. Bumpers is the least prestigious, as it is for untried horses. In flat racing the grades go Group 1, 2, 3, then Listed. National Hunt races are grouped into Classes, from 1 to 7, with 1 being the best.

10. Hunter chases and point to point races are also National Hunt races

Hunter chases are only open to horses who have hunter certificates – these are issued to horses who have hunted for at least four days in the season before the January racing season starts. The jockey must be an amateur who has obtained a certificate from the hunt secretary. Point to Point racing is basically steeplechasing for amateurs and untried horses, and many will compete in these races before moving on to the bigger National Hunt races.

Final Words

Point to Point racing

There are a lot of people out there who make a great deal of money from horse racing. There are the owners, trainers and jockeys, of course, but also for those willing to take the time to study form, various types of track and race styles, and keep an eye on the up and coming stars, horse racing can be a very lucrative thing.

If you are interested in horse racing there is a wealth of information out there on the various different types, and if you just fancy a weekend flutter then why not place your bets on some interesting National Hunt racing rising star? It may provide you with some useful pocket money – and if not, it’s still a great day out!

Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Horses & Foals since 2017. Horses have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.


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